LISA EISNER AND DOUGLAS KEEVE ARE HITTING THE TRAIL WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM RALPH LAUREN.
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren has made his first foray as a newly minted media mogul, and it happens to be on very familiar ground — the rodeo.
In a megadeal with NBC, Lauren formed Ralph Lauren Media last month to explore and create new businesses in all areas, from TV to Web sites to e-commerce. But for the first deal, he’s sticking to traditional print and film. The company is sponsoring the launch of “Rodeo Girl,” a photography book done by Los Angeles style icon and photographer Lisa Eisner, starting with a party tonight at the uber-trendy Paris boutique Colette, as well as launches in New York and Los Angeles later this spring. It’s also hammering out the details of a partnership in the documentary film that is being done on the book by “Unzipped” director Douglas Keeve.
“This is the beginning of how we are going to build a new media company,” Lauren told WWD. “It is a vehicle to open the door on a whole new world.
“This is not an off-the-wall subject for us,” he added. “Rodeos are a natural fit, and the timing is perfect. My name has always been associated with the West and with America — one of my first collections was dedicated to the West. It all fits in beautifully.”
It’s not the first time Lauren has been involved in films; the company is a presenting sponsor of the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado each year, and also supports Columbia University’s student film festival. But the rodeo documentary will be the first major media project for Ralph Lauren Media.
“I admired ‘Unzipped,’ and I think this is going to be a good documentary,” said Lauren, who has been chatting with Keeve regularly. “If it has the imagination and is made the way I think he is going to make it, it could turn into a major film. This is a guy with passion and a fresh eye, and I feel comfortable working with him.”
Lauren has ambitions of his own, he admitted, including possibly directing feature films or producing TV sitcoms.
“People come in here every day with new projects,” he said. “But with our connection to the West, ‘Rodeo Girl’ was natural for us.”
In fact, the book and film projects are a happy collision of networking and serendipity. Eisner is a style muse known for her eclectic fashion sense (close friend Tom Ford spontaneously made her part of this season’s Gucci ads when she was visiting him on the shoot one day). Eisner had a brief stint several years ago as a designer at Ralph Lauren before moving to the West Coast.
Last year, she and partners Roman Alonso, former director of image and advertising at Isaac Mizrahi, and graphic designer Lorraine Wild, founded Greybull Press to publish photography books. “Rodeo Girl” is its first title. The film project brought Keeve, whose documentary on Mizrahi, “Unzipped,” was a surprise commercial success, and producer Nina Santisi, Mizrahi’s former vice president of public relations and advertising, on board. To complete the connection, the “Rodeo Girl” party at Colette coincides with Ralph Lauren’s debut as a resource in the store, known for mixing up cutting-edge fashion with the latest gadget from Japan or New Balance sneakers. But that, too, was serendipity.
“I went to the Frankfurt book fair for the first time, and happened to pass by the booth that was displaying Lisa Eisner’s book,” said Sarah, a buyer for the store and the organizer of its art exhibitions. She is also the daughter of Colette; neither uses her last name.
“I was really struck by these images, which are from a world that is completely different and full of its own tradition,” she said. Photos from Eisner’s book are on display at the store’s gallery through April 1.
“I’m thrilled to be in Colette,” Lauren said. “I want to grow on many different levels. A company like Ralph Lauren has to expand on several different fronts simultaneously, and my audience has several levels, several personalities. We see them downtown in SoHo, we see them buying Purple Label, and we are going to see them in places like Colette.”
“Rodeo Girl” came about because of Eisner’s passion for the subject that was bred into her from a young age, when she became obsessed with Cheyenne Frontier Days, a 103-year-old annual rodeo festival, and particularly the spectacular appearance of the rodeo queens.
“When I was growing up, it was the only game in town,” Eisner said. “It was the beginning of my fascination with the rodeo queen. It was my first exposure to color and shine and glamour and hair and sequins and everything matching. It’s the most mesmerizing thing you can see — these women are like jewelry, perched up high on horses. It’s not just a beauty pageant. They’re tested on their ability to ride and on their knowledge of the rodeo.”
But the book, and the film, are also about what goes on as the girls get ready to compete.
“There’s something really compelling about the whole drama,” said Keeve. “There’s a big psychological component. And unlike other beauty pageants, these girls don’t get a lot of support, financially. In a way, it’s like an endurance test. These girls are scrutinized almost 24 hours a day. They don’t go to bed before 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., and they have to get up at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. A lot of these women prepare their entire lives for this incredible test. You start to root for who you like, you can’t help it. By the end of it, I was just heartbroken.”
Keeve, who began filming in Las Vegas at Miss Rodeo America last year, described driving with one of the contestants from her home in Idaho to the contest.
“She’s competing, so she can’t just drive up to the hotel and get out,” he said. “So after this marathon 11-hour drive, we have to stop off outside of Las Vegas at a truck stop so she can plug in her hot curlers and do her makeup. And of course I’m there, making a movie. And there are these characters, as you can imagine, who are hanging around watching us. And then we drive into Las Vegas.”
But Keeve is hooked.
“This is a whole part of America that has kept its roots, its tradition, its look,” he said.
And for Lauren, the project is a good omen for the next step of his company.
“Sometimes in life, if you do the right thing and you think things through, sometimes it just does all come together,” he said.